It was my sister-in-law Annu who first used the word ‘Eureka’ to describe my reaction as I came out of the radiology lab of the Medical College Hospital, that courtroom which sealed my fate, which once and for all allayed all doubts and hopes that the disease that had afflicted me was a benign, harmless one.
After the tumour in the iliac bone was diagnosed as a secondary, specialists invaded our room. I was put through every possible test to locate the original site of those rogue cells, one of which took it upon itself to travel all the way to the ilium and start a colony there. For two days, the investigation yielded no results. That’s when we first heard the term ‘occult’ – a term used to refer to a condition when the primary location remains unknown. I must say whoever does the naming ceremony for these awful disease related features has a weird sense of humour. Occult! Why drag the spooky aspect of the supernatural into this already horrible world of cancer?
The Surgeon, Dr. Sridhar, came to examine me. He claimed that he’d detected something suspicious in the breast. No way, I told him (by then, my infinite patience was metamorphosing into finite). The mammogram had showed negative result, I told him.
“It shall be reviewed”, he declared quietly, confidently.
For some reason, that little devil started niggling at me again.
“What have you detected that the machines couldn’t?” Cheeky, I knew, but I had been dealt a death blow by life, and these little liberties taken by the dead man walking are often condoned. The doctor could see that I was overwrought, and excusably so. He later turned out to be our regular visitor while we were there in the Medical College Hospital.
Holding up his hands as though in prayer he said with a twinkle in his eyes, “The surgeon’s hands!” Then, more seriously, “Never underrate clinical examination. I’m sure I am right.”
But I was worried. What if the review did not support his finding. By then Sunny had done his homework on the implications of the occult primary. They were really scary. If one were destined to be afflicted by this diseace, I told myself, the least one can ask is have it in a known, locatable site.
In the meanwhile, the news had got around in our family and friends’ circle that the primary cancer was indulging in a hide-and seek game. Panic spread. We live in days when one can get a low down on any condition at the tap of a few keys, and we guessed many a pair of hands were working overtime at the keyboards. The land phone and the mobile rang incessantly. I took very few calls as I was a little groggy after the bone surgery. But I found it a good pastime, trying to figure out the other end of the conversation while I listened to our end as Sunny or Annu answered the phone.
My daughter called during this time. Apparently, she was very persuasive about some test, for I heard Sunny telling her repeatedly that a doctor had to prescribe it. She wanted a brain scan done, Sunny told me later. “Please papa, do it for me. Tell the doctor I want it to be done”, she’d been pleading. But generally, the truant primary remained an unspoken issue, though it lurked menacingly in every telephone conversation from those who called to show their solidarity in those awful moments the three of us waited fearfully, as though for an impending catastrophe.
In accordance with Dr. Sridhar’s instructions, the Radiology Department gave me appointment for the next day for the review of the mammogram. I prayed that the surgeon’s observation be true. More than the usual number of doctors seemed to be there in the radiology lab. I waited anxiously while the ultra sound scan was in progress. All eyes were glued to the monitor and then, suddenly, the probe stopped for a moment at a spot. A doctor who stood by me pointed her finger in the direction of the monitor. I twisted my head around to get a glimpse of the monitor. Nothing I saw there briefly made any sense but everybody was talking all on a sudden. The probe kept moving over the same zeroed in point.
“That’s it”, some one said.
They looked at me and away quickly. I guessed they didn’t want to announce the discovery of a malignant tumour in my presence.
But I wouldn’t be left out.
“Did you find it?” I asked eagerly. “Did you find the primary? You can tell me. I can take it”.
“Looks like we have”.
I could have jumped with joy had I not been debilitated by the post -operative condition. But some of that excitement must have seeped through on to my face as I was wheeled into the large lobby outside the radiology lab, where I found Annu waiting, looking very anxious. I grinned at her and told her happily, “They ‘ve found it. Dr. Sridhar was right. They’ve found the primary”
She stared at me utter disbelief. Half smiling and half flabbergast, she remarked that I sounded like Archmedes after he discovered the law of buoyancy. Just then, Sunny walked up to us and I blurted out the same thing in the same manner.
It was his turn to look stunned. “You look and sound thrilled”, he said incredulously.
I wondered why it did not strike either of them that the known devil is any day better than the unknown.